Spitting Pollen

In the ‘isn’t nature amazing’ category, this plant has a clever and surprising trick to make sure it gets pollinated – it spits it on the visiting bee (or finger...).

Anneslea fragrans is not uncommon in the mountains of southern China through to Thailand, but you won’t see it in many gardens in Australia. It’s in the tea family, Theaceae, of which Camellia is the largest and most well know member. I was lucky enough to see a mature plant at Bob Cherry’s Paradise garden on Saturday, and to have its tricky pollination mechanism demonstrated to me.

You can see the pollen ‘spittle’ on Bob’s finger in the first picture above. The young flower has its petals tightly clasped together, forming something like a Russian church spire. The swollen part of the spire has slits in it to allow the perfume (it’s not called ‘fragrans’ for nothing) to escape, attracting pollinating insects such as the bee. You might be able to see the slits more clearly in this image.

So then the bee, or Bob’s finger, hovers around the fragrant bloom. If the tip of the spire – a protruding ‘style’ I think – is knocked in any way, a blob of pollen fires out the nozzle. The shocked and now pollen coated bee moves swiftly to a new bloom. This time it may be an older flower, fully opened and receptive to the smear of pollen that will be left on its style.

That seems to be the way it works. It’s fascinating to see the plant in action and we must get an Anneslea on display in the Royal Botanic Gardens (or at least I should find out if we have one at Mount Tomah).


Simon Goodwin said…
We actually do have one specimen of this species in the Royal Botanic Gardens Tim! It’s been growing in the Oriental Garden since 2001, and now flowers regularly. You will find it if you walk towards the Oriental Garden from the Botanic Gardens Kiosk - when you reach the wisteria pergola it is in the first bed on the left.
There is another in the nursery waiting to be planted out. Both are progeny from specimens collected on Bob Cherry’s trip to China’s Yunnan Provence east of the town of Simao in 1989.
Our database also records one plant at Mount Tomah.
Simon Goodwin - Gardens Information Officer - Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain
Tim Entwisle said…
Thanks Simon. I took a look and interestingly it's a week or so off the flowers being open, and spitting... The parent plant at Bob Cherry's is much bigger of course but our 3m specimen looks very healthy and seems to grow well in Sydney.